Here’s a really great question that came from one Biblegems reader: “Is speaking in tongues something that the church should encourage all its members to do?”
The Bible describes speaking in tongues as one of the many spiritual gifts God has given His church for building up the Body of Christ and reaching the lost for Jesus.
However, the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14, does give a significant amount of advice on the appropriate use of the spiritual gift of tongues. In that passage he makes two very interesting statements regarding whether Christians should be encouraged to speak in tongues. In verse 5 he writes, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” Then, in verse thirty-nine he adds, “Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”
As a matter of personal opinion, Paul thought every believer would benefit from the experience of speaking in tongues. Used privately, it is a very personal, private form of prayer. In that case, “…anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit” (14:2).
But in terms of using the gift for the benefit of other believers gathered as the church, it is beneficial only if someone can interpret what is said. In that case, the gift functions much like the gift of prophecy and is a blessing to everybody, not just the person using it. That’s why Paul says in verse six, “Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?”
In verse thirty-nine, where he says, “do not forbid speaking in tongues,” he still has in view using the gift in an assembled group of believers. In other words, he is saying, ‘be careful how you use the gift in public worship.’ Speaking in tongues should never draw attention to itself. Non-Christians who might visit the church would easily be turned off by people speaking out loud in tongues, convinced they were probably nuts (v. 23)! Speaking in tongues would actually turn people away from Jesus instead of to Him.
So, in answer to the question, “Is speaking in tongues something that the church should encourage all its members to do?” — all believers should eagerly desire the gifts of the Spirit (14:1), and be content with the gifts the Holy Spirit chooses to give us (1 Cor. 12:11). And of course, when used in gatherings of the church, “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (14:40).